I don’t remember the first time I went into a bookstore. I mean, it would make a great story — the awe I felt as I looked up at all the shelves and shelves of books, clutching my favorite with fat fingers, the anxious car ride home, hardly being able to wait to read my new book… No, I don’t have a memory like that. I remember the first books I ever learned to read (My Toys and Bunny Blue) and the first book I ever bought for myself (a Bugs Bunny book — it was the first thing I ever went up to a counter and paid for — I was 5), but I don’t remember my first trip to a bookstore.
I don’t think it’s because my memory is shot; I think it’s because I’ve been going to bookstores for longer than I can remember. I learned to read when I was really little — only 3 — and my mother learned that the best way to get any peace was to make sure I had a book in my filthy little hands. So we went to the library all the time, and if I had been especially good, it was a trip to the bookstore to buy a book for my very own.
The bookstore was always the special place I went with my dad. If I got an A on my report card, or he was home on the weekend instead of traveling for work, we’d go to the little local bookstore (Rakestraw) and buy me a book. And not just any book — a fancy, hardcover one! And then he would inscribe it, and to this day, the ones I have left are some of my most treasured possessions. I even carried a photocopied inscription from one of those books folded and tucked in my wedding bouquet, to make it feel as if he were there with me.
Those little bookstore trips of my childhood are some of my most cherished memories, and I’m grateful to my parents for nurturing my love of reading. I was so lucky.
Though I can’t remember my first trip to a bookstore, I do know that at some point my parents took me, and I kept going back. But there are kids today who can’t remember their first trip, because they haven’t had taken them. There could be a lot of reasons for that, but the one that concerns me most is that there aren’t as many bookstores around anymore. Thanks to online shopping, small, independent booksellers can’t really compete with that big website named for a large river. Some have had to close, but others are still going today — many of them thriving.
One of the reasons for this is because they have come up with ingenious plans — they have excellent selections of books (and other merchandise), fantastic staffs who get to know their customers and can recommend joy (aka books they will like), events that draw customers, and they build a strong community in their neighborhoods. They are invaluable.
And one of the most ingenious plans they have cooked up is “Independent Bookstore Day,” happening Saturday, May 2nd. Taking a nod from Record Store Day, it started off “small” (just in California to test it out) and was such a huge success last year that it grew to become a nationwide “holiday!” Bookstores all over the US will be hosting events, authors, selling limited edition books and posters (I heard Green Apple has a special exclusive John Waters poster!!!), storytimes, bands, serving refreshments… SO much cool stuff is going on, and all to celebrate independent bookstores. How great is that? The Bay Area even has a little passport you can print out and you can get it stamped and get prizes for how many stores you visit. I love it! I’ll be heading over to Books Inc in Alameda this year for their Rad Women from A-Z by Kate Schatz event. I am so excited — a rad book about rad women at a rad bookstore on a rad day? YES, PLEASE.
But there are tons of events all over the country at over 400 bookstores — check with your local bookseller to see what they’ve got going on. (Type “independent bookstore day” in the search on Facebook — SO MANY show up! I wish I could go to all of them…) Here’s the Facebook page for some information, but look up your favorite bookstore’s page as well.
I don’t want to live in a world without bookstores, and the only way we can assure that bookstores can keep going is to shop there and support them and celebrate them. That goes for every day, but be sure to celebrate them May 2nd especially. So go and buy yourself a copy of A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, or any old favorite for a friend or a new treat for yourself. Parents, take you kids, and daddies — if you have a daughter, buy her a special book and inscribe it for her. It could become one of her most valuable treasures she’ll keep for the rest of her life.
So go out there and buy some books and keep culture and your heart and mind alive. Long live bookstores, and long live Independent Bookstore Day!